A lot of women have uterine fibroids at some point in their life. You may have even had them and never known it. That’s because they often don’t cause any pain or symptoms.
So if you can get them and not have side effects, how do you even know if you have them? And should you be concerned?
What Are They?
Uterine fibroids, which your doctor may call leiomyomas or myomas, are muscular tumors that can grow on your uterus. They rarely turn into cancer, and if you get them it doesn’t mean you’re more likely to get uterine cancer.
Fibroids can vary a lot in size, shape, and location. They can show up in your uterus, uterine wall, or on its surface. They can also attach to your uterus by a stalk- or stem-like structure.
Some are so small that your doctor can’t even see them with the naked eye. Others grow in big masses that can affect the size and shape of the uterus.
Uterine fibroids usually appear in women of childbearing age -- generally between 30 and 40 years old, but they can show up at any age. They’re also more common in African-American women than in white women, and tend to show up earlier and grow quicker in African-Americans, as well. Doctors don’t know why that is.
What Are the Symptoms?
Some women may find out they have uterine fibroids because their doctor discovers them during a routine exam or ultrasound. You may be different, though.
If you do have symptoms, they might include:
- Heavy bleeding or painful periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Pressure, pain, or fullness in your lower stomach
- Enlarged abdomen or uterus
- Needing to pee often or trouble emptying your bladder
- Pain during sex
- Miscarriages or infertility
What Causes Them?
Experts don’t know exactly why you get fibroids. Hormones and genetics might make you more likely to get them.
Hormones. Estrogen and progesterone are the hormones that make the lining of your uterus thicken every month during your period. They also seem to affect fibroid growth. When hormone production slows down during menopause, fibroids usually shrink.
Genetics. Researchers have found genetic differences between fibroids and normal cells in the uterus.
Am I at Risk?
Besides age and race, there are a few other things that can raise your chances of developing uterine fibroids, such as family history. You’re more likely to get fibroids if your mom or sister has had them.
Many other things can contribute to your chances of getting uterine fibroids, including:
- Getting your first period at a young age
- Birth control use
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Eating too much red meat and not enough green vegetables, fruit, or dairy
Can I Prevent Them?
No, but there is some research that suggests certain lifestyle habits can reduce your chances.
One study found that high-sugar diets may be linked to a higher risk in some women. Another study found that eating fresh fruits and cruciferous vegetables like arugula, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and turnip greens could lower your odds. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in beta-carotene, folate, vitamins C, E, and K, and other minerals. They’re also full of fiber.
Regular exercise also can lower your chances of uterine fibroids.